There was nearly an oversight committed as Cumberland and Woonsocket looked to stay the course in the high school football playoff arms race.
Now that the postseason sabers have officially been placed in the Villa Novans’ closet and off to the side for the time being for the Clippers, it’s officially time to talk turkey – as in the annual Thanksgiving Day contest involving these two longtime Blackstone Valley rivals. The latest chapter takes place this Thursday morning with a scheduled 10:30 a.m. kickoff at Woonsocket’s Barry Field.
Cumberland has won 28 holiday matchups while Woonsocket has triumphed 17 times. On four occasions, the teams left the field tied. Add the three numbers together and what do you get? That’s right, 49, and what follows?
This year signals the 50th consecutive Thanksgiving meeting between the Clippers and the Novans. In ceremonial terms, 50 years is labeled the golden anniversary. It’s an important milestone, hence why plans are in motion to commemorate five decades’ worth of Turkey Day confrontations.
“I was talking to (Cumberland Athletic Director) Frank Geiselman at the Cumberland-Coventry (Division II quarterfinal game on Nov. 15), and he indicated that he thought it was the 50th game,” stated George Nasuti, Woonsocket’s director of athletics. “It caught both of us off-guard. Plus the way the playoffs were set up, the hype wasn’t there. Everyone was trying to get to the semifinals and get them done. Thanksgiving was not on everyone’s mind.”
Realizing that time was of the essence, Nasuti and Geiselman acted swiftly. What the pair would like to do is invite the Cumberland and Woonsocket football players who competed in the rivalry’s inaugural contest back in November 1964 – according to rihssports.com, the Novans prevailed that day by a 12-6 count – to Thursday’s game free of charge. The members from that game will stand on the field as honorary captains for the pregame coin flip with an additional ceremony scheduled for halftime.
In addition, shirts printed up specifically to pay homage to the 50th installment will be available for purchase at Barry Field.
“It’s about celebrating 50 years of the neighbors getting together,” said Nasuti.
Added Geiselman, “We want to get those guys on the field and recognize them.”
In conjunction with the 50th jubilee, present day members from the high schools will convene at Cumberland High Tuesday morning at 11 before heading off to Cumberland Manor, located on 1 Mendon Road, to distribute turkeys. Making the trip will be the two principals, Alan J. Tenreiro of Cumberland and Woonsocket’s Dr. Lynn Bedard, the two head football coaches, Cumberland’s Chris Skurka and Carnell Henderson of Woonsocket, the two athletic directors, and the senior captains from the football and cheerleading squads.
“We haven’t gotten the two teams together like this in a long time, so I thought it was a great idea,” expressed Nasuti, who also noted that Tenreiro reached about to him about the possibility of arranging some kind of goodwill gesture that involved the two schools.
Of the current Rhode Island-only Thanksgiving high school football matchups, Cumberland-Woonsocket ranks behind La Salle-East Providence (84 meetings prior to this year), West Warwick-Coventry (51 meetings) and Pilgrim-Warwick Vets (50 meetings). Portsmouth and Middletown have met 48 times while Westerly has played 101 holiday games against Connecticut’s Stonington.
“What’s concerning to me is that a lot of traditions are wearing away. That’s why it’s important to honor the players from that first game,” Nasuti said. “All I remember is that Cumberland-Woonsocket was a big game no matter what. I went to it as a kid, played in it and coached in it. Our current players need to learn the tradition.”
Geiselman echoed his fellow AD’s sentiments. “People have changed rivalries over the years, but sometimes schedules dictate that. We’ve been lucky to keep Woonsocket as a rival.”
For those ’64 Clipper and Novan gridders who wish to find out more information about this coming Thursday, they can contact Nausti at (401) 767-4754 or firstname.lastname@example.org . To reach Geiselman, email him at email@example.com .
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03